Dangerous When Wet
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Made at the peak of Esther Williams' success, Dangerous When Wet (1953) certified the star's reputation as "America's Swimming Sweetheart" and box office gold. The aqua-musical again plunges the actress into a watery wonderland with "a light mixture of tunes, comedy, water ballet and Esther Williams in a bathing suit," as the Variety review so aptly described it.
Williams plays Katie Higgins, a member of an Arkansas farm family determined to swim the English Channel in order to win money for a prize bull. Mom is played by high-kicking actress Charlotte Greenwood, best known as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, (1955) and dad is William Demarest, later famous as the second Uncle Charlie on TV's My Three Sons. Jack Carson plays the hustling liquid vitamin promoter and movie buffs can spot future 007 Roger Moore in a small part as a reporter. The role of Katie's teenage sister, played by Barbara Whiting, was originally slated for Debbie Reynolds.
Rounding out the cast is debonair Fernando Lamas in his first and only movie with Williams, playing a champagne mogul who woos Katie while she is in training. Lamas, an infamous Hollywood ladies' man, and Williams were both involved with others at the time of the movie, but would later marry in real life. Initially reluctant to join the movie because it wasn't a true drama, Lamas finally agreed to the part after being convinced by Williams. She recalls in her autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid, that he said, "I don't want to play Nelson Eddy to your Jeanette MacDonald in a swimming pool."
Lamas was the first actual swimmer that had starred opposite Williams, a champion swimmer as a teen and one-time Olympic hopeful. That skill was needed for the film's finale as Williams attempts to cross the channel alone after local authorities have forbidden the Higgins family of an attempt. As she wavers near the end, Lamas' character jumps in to the rescue to coach her through to victory and into his arms.
The highlight of the film is a comic live action/animated interlude that includes Williams acting and swimming with MGM cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. The sequence was directed by Fred Quimby, William Hanna and Joe Barbera, the same team who had first brought the idea to the screen in 1945's Anchors Aweigh with a dancing Gene Kelly. In her autobiography, Williams recalled, "I dove in, sat down at the underwater table, put one foot in the cleats, and wrapped the other around the leg of the chair to anchor myself at the bottom. I played the scene with the imaginary octopus that would later be drawn in by Hanna and Barbera (while Fernando sang off camera, "In my wildest dreams, I never thought we'd meet," a gurgling, underwater sound added to his voice.) This was all done in pantomime, as I was alone underwater. I also swam with Tom and Jerry, was chased by a cartoon shark, and was followed by a family of singing seahorses. It looked as if I swam and acted effortlessly. Hardly. It is quite a challenge to swim the crawl and backstroke underwater. For swimmers out there, try to lift your elbows while swimming underwater. You'll find your body is propelled to the top. In order to keep yourself under the surface, your toes must be pointed downward (an unnatural and ungainly position), and your arms must stroke laterally, a technique that demands a powerful upper body. Oh yes, don't forget that while you're doing this, you've got dialogue. And don't forget to smile!" Later, when Dangerous When Wet was test screened for audiences, Williams said, "the response cards indicated that the audience didn't believe I was underwater during the Tom and Jerry sequence...So for the following preview, Joe and Phil [the animators] had drawn $50,000 worth of pink underwater bubbles floating from my mouth whenever I spoke."
At the helm of Dangerous When Wet is Charles Walters, who had worked with Williams previously on 1951's Texas Carnival and would go on to direct another of her features, Easy to Love in 1953. Harold Rosson, Jean Harlow's last husband and cinematographer of movies from 1915 to the 1960s, is the photographer on the film.
On the heels of the previous year's fan favorite Million Dollar Mermaid, Dangerous When Wet again triumphed at the box office, capping a decade of successful Williams films that began with her first swim picture, 1944's Bathing Beauty.
Producer: George Wells
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Music: Scott Bradley, Arthur Schwartz
Cast: Esther Williams (Katie Higgins), Fernando Lamas (Andre Lanet), Jack Carson (Windy Weebe), Charlotte Greenwood (Ma Higgins), Denise Darcel (Gigi Mignon), William Demarest (Pa Higgins).
C-96m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox